Post image for Artist, Immigrant: Teresa Yenque

(To learn more about Marcy Arlin’s Artist, Immigrant blog series, click here.)

I know Teresa from television and films, and a reading she did at the Tenement Theatre years ago. In many of her appearances on television, film and theatre, she is the paradigm of tragic motherhood, or the long suffering domestic, or the stoic immigrant. But with Teresa in these roles, these women are not stereotypes. They are deeply real individual. Teresa makes their story ours.

What do you love about theatre in the U.S. for yourself and in general?
I just love doing theater in the U.S. I love to portray characters with big issues, to confront and let other people know of their existence and situations in the form of drama and comedy.

What do you miss about working in your homeland?
I was introduced to the U.S. theatre while I was here. In my country, I never attended any theater to see a show or took any theatrical training, so I can’t compare. However, I think that because of my complexion, I have had problems getting a job over there. In the U.S. there are more opportunities for minorities due to the variety of complexion, accents and issues.

How have you combined, in your work, both country’s theatre training and culture?
I was not trained in my country. Perhaps my father wouldn’t let me even take any training because theatre is not considered as a serious, regular job where you can get a steady income.

How do you see yourself/identify yourself as an artist in terms of being an immigrant? Does it matter to you?
I’m fortunate that I got jobs where they require an immigrant and I happened to there in the right place. Of course, there is always competition, but I was always happy to see more immigrants for the job. I was the first Charlota in One Life to Live; I appeared as Carmela in the series Ed and I also appeared in several Law & Order and L&O/SVU. I also worked with Natasha Richardson in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Roundabout Theater.

How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)
This wasn’t a big issue because my complexion and accent were requested. However, now, no accent is accepted to get a job, especially in TV. I’m from South America, so I can’t get any TV commercial job because I don’t have a Caribbean look. I can only get a chance when the commercials are going to be shown in the West Coast, and then I play a Mexican.

What are you doing now? Here and/or abroad?
I’m working for Repertorio Español, in the morning, performing in Spanish for students, and at night for regular audiences. I also work in English in different theaters where my accent is accepted or required. I also worked in TV in different shows as Hispanic, nanny, housekeeper, where I feel comfortable because of my age and looks.

Can you tell me a theatre short story/anecdote about when you first came here? A more recent story?
I was performing at the DC’s Kennedy Center, Maggy Magalita by Wendy Kesselman. Parents and children came to see the play more than one time. The children applauded and yelled from happiness when the grandmother comes out to take her bow (the grandma dies during the play). Afterwards, the mothers came back to our dressing room with tears in their eyes to thank me, because of my character. Their children love their grandparents now, and they watch them closely to help them move, or if they need anything, instead of treating them as an old piece of furniture that is in their way while they were playing.

That make me feel that my mission was being accomplished, that I was sharing a story with a message, and the audience took the message nicely.

Sometimes I’m walking in the street and someone asks me if I’m an actress, and when I say yes, they say, “Oh, you make me cry”, or, “you are funny.” They don’t know my name, but they remember my character, and that makes me happy. In film or TV, you have no audience present applauding you, so you never know how it was, so when these comments arrive I feel great, the message was given and the audience enjoyed my characters.

Last Saturday at midnight I came back from Puerto Rico where I was performing in Spanish Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Garcia Marquez. 6 performances, more than 7,000 people in the audience. How great it feels to see a full house with kids yelling and applauding with so much happiness and contentment.

Anything else you want to add?
Right now, there are more openings for immigrants in the media, but still not enough for all the existing immigrant talent in U.S.

What is your residency/citizenship/visa status? How does it affect your life as an artist?
I am lucky in terms of residency. In 1960 I came with my brother and parents to the U.S. with a permanent Visa. Right know I have American citizenship.

Teresa Yenque arrived in the U.S. from Piura, Peru, in 1960 with her parents and brother. In 1973, she joined Repertorio Español and has devoted her life to a career in the theatre ever since. She has been in the classical Spanish plays La Celestina, Fuenteovejuna, The Dumb Lady, and The Ghost Lady, and the more contemporary works The House of Bernarda Alba, Blood Wedding, Antigona Perez, Bad Blood and Chronicles of a Death Foretold. Ms. Yenque has performed on Broadway, Lincoln Center, Public, The Lamb, La Mama and throughout the New York area. She has toured extensively and appeared at the international theatre festivals Chamizal (Texas), and in Zaragoza, Spain. Regional theater credits include: The Uprooted (Chicago’s Victory Gardens) and Maggy Magalita (Kennedy Center). Awards include: ACE Award in Special Recognition for Contribution to Hispanic Theatre in NYC, HOLA, Palmas de Oro, Humanidades, Don Galaor, Hall of Fame, a Citation of Honor from the President of the Borough of Queens and an HOLA Award for 40 years of Excellence in Theater, Film and Television. TV credits include: 30 Rock, Ed, Hope & Faith, The Division, Still A Stranger, Unsolved Mysteries, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, The Sopranos, Prime Suspect, One Live to Live and All My Children. She has worked opposite Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Alec Baldwin, Natasha Richardson, Jose Yenque, and many others.